Finding Jim Nabors’ replacement no easy task for Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Just because the 2014 season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently wrapped up with the MotoGP and Brickyard 400 races doesn’t mean President Doug Boles has nothing to do.

To the contrary, he says now is the time to start getting ready for next year. Already, Boles and his staff are considering things like revamping parking at the mammoth facility, reconfiguring suites (possibly creating some smaller private suites along the main straight), and capital improvements such as overhauling restrooms and adding high-definition video boards.

There’s one other thing Boles has on his to-do list: replace Jim Nabors as the singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” sung prior to the Indianapolis 500. While Boles said Speedway officials haven’t reached out to potential replacements just yet, he said plenty of people have asked to be considered.

Nabors has sung “Back Home Again” nearly every year since 1972. But when Nabors couldn’t attend the Indy 500 in 2012, Boles said the outpouring was unbelievable—both from fans fond of the song and those wanting to replace Nabors.

One man, Boles recalled, showed up at Speedway headquarters and refused to leave until an IMS executive spoke to him. Boles relented and went down to the lobby, where the man stood inches from Boles’ face belting out the song. When Boles tried to interrupt, saying he got the picture, the man insisted on finishing the song. He then left Boles a recording of himself singing the song.

“As it turns out, a lot of people feel very passionately about that song,” Boles said.

The others include actor David Hasselhoff, of Baywatch and Knight Rider fame. Apparently Hasselhoff is known as something of a singer, as well, his songs once attaining some popularity in Germany for a time.

In 2012, IMS officials decided to go with a video of Nabors singing the soulful song. That won’t be the case next year. Boles said there’s no timeline on finding or announcing Nabors’ replacement. He declined to name possible replacements or say who has approached the Speedway this time around. He’s also not sure exactly what characteristics in a singer will be sought.

Two things are clear, though.

First, Speedway officials aren’t necessarily looking for someone to sing the song on an ongoing basis. Boles pointed out that Nabors was only selected to sing the song for one year in 1972, but it “just clicked” and so the track retained him each May.

Second, the search isn’t going to be limited to people with Hoosier roots, though many have already expressed their desire to see the likes of John Mellencamp, Sandi Patty, Florence Henderson or even Josh Kaufman.

“Jim Nabors isn’t from Indiana,” Boles said.

He’s from Alabama. He didn’t even know the words to the song the first time he sang it. He had to write them on his hand.

For now, IMS officials are merely looking for someone to sing the song before the 2015 race. From there, they’ll see how it evolves, Boles said.

The song was first sung before the Indianapolis 500 in 1946 and for the first 26 years a singer usually sang it for just one year. That is, until Nabors came along and universally ingratiated himself to Hoosiers.

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